When people ask me when I first became a writer, the most honest answer is, “Three-years-old.” When they ask me when I first became a professional novelist, the most honest answer is, “Three years ago.”
Why so much space in-between?
When I was three, I used to dictate stories to my parents, because I had stories running through my head but I didn’t know how to write yet. I was making my own picture books in early elementary school (the artwork, let’s say, was beloved by classmates and never would have gotten a second glance at by a publisher). In second grade I wrote my first chapter book, and while I never want it to see print, it was a good stepping stone in teaching me what not to do.
I kept working on novel attempts through elementary school, usually too scared or self-critical to show to anyone. But when I was in middle school, something changed where I just found my voice and found other kids who wanted to read my stories. All I thought about was writing and getting published; it was my obsession. I started sending out query letters to agents in middle school, wanting to be taken seriously by a writer, and told by multiple adults that I was writing at a professional level.
Of course, all the query letters came back with rejection slips. I thought my being so young would attract agents and editors, but it seemed to do the opposite. When I saw other teenagers get published, I discovered they usually had contacts on the inside or parents with the money and ability to essentially buy their kids the path to publication. I had nothing of the sort; I was a nobody to publishers. Instead, I had years and years of rejection letters.
Toward the end of high school, seeing I wasn’t getting anywhere with publishing my novels, and well-aware I was in a situation where I had to start making my own money, I began freelancing. My short stories I so naively sent to the New Yorker were of course turned down, but I got my start by writing for the local newspaper. They were willing to take on someone my age. I covered whatever they sent me to cover: tractor pull, kids riding horses, whatever.
I sent these writing samples to a bigger, more artsy newspaper in the state, and they brought me on. I asked to do an article interviewing anime voice over actors, because I’m a fan of anime. Not only did I get to do that, but I sent those interviews to Anime Insider, a glossy anime magazine. The editor there liked my writing style and I began freelancing for them.
I spent the next years submitting everywhere I could to build a platform. If publishers thought I was a nobody, I was going to make myself a name and get their attention that way. Whenever I got published in a new place, I would send that published piece to other publications. This showed them I was a publisher writer, which is worth more than its weight in gold. Being a published writer does more than having a degree in English or loving to write: it proves someone was willing to pay you, and if they were willing to pay you, that implies that you are a good writer who makes deadlines and turns in accurate articles without grammatical errors. When you boil it all down, this is what an editor wants more than anything else.
By doing this, I eventually ended up writing for CNN, The Onion, the Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Often I wrote about topics like anime, manga and graphic novels, my old favorites. For a while I was on-staff as a writer at MTV, but I was a freelancer for all the other places. I also had a job adapting Japanese manga into English.
Meanwhile, publishing books remained a Sisyphean task. A editor who was head of a New York publisher sounded very interested in my manuscript . . . then he left the company and basically disappeared. An agent told me to hold on for a few weeks for her to get a couple projects done and then she would sign me, because she was so impressed with my book and work . . . when I emailed her a few weeks later, she acted as if she didn’t know me. Another agent was interested in me but then stopped agenting for health reasons. For years I kept getting this close calls like these, and for a while I even had an agent, but he didn’t really send anything out and was always coming up with excuses. (I don’t believe he is agenting anymore. The agent who loved me and then pretended not to know me still is.)
Most of my rejection letters were either cut-and-paste (I suggest assistants and not actual agents often read the slush pile) or they’d say I was a very good writer . . . but not right for their list. Many writers know the pain of somehow just never being right for the elusive list.
When people ask why I didn’t give up, the most honest answer is, “I didn’t know what else to do with myself.” I’d always wanted to be a writer. I couldn’t afford to go to writing conventions, where a number of writers have found agents, but I tried my best to network on social media, especially LinkedIn. It was through LinkedIn I met an editor who was looking for a new place to work. We talked on the phone and liked each other.
Part of my networking is that we should always help each other out; writers shouldn’t just expect people to do things for them. I offered to send her résumé to MTV, where I was working, and in return she offered to send my query letter to agents she knew. One of the agents she knew asked to represent me, and while she didn’t get hired at MTV, she was soon at another publishing company, Skyhorse. Skyhorse wanted to do a book on manga, and she remembered me talking about my work on manga and suggested I send in a pitch for it. This led me to my first book sale: Manga Art for Beginners.
In the past three years, I have signed contracts for seventeen different books for three different publishers. These are not the earlier books I had written and still want to get published, but I found these opportunities and jumped on them. Besides Manga Art for Beginners, I have written two “books for Minecrafters” series (essentially adventure novels for kids that take place as if Minecraft is real) a Barbie graphic novel called Barbie: Puppy Party, and a Tales from the Crypt comic called “Picture Perfect.”
My first Minecrafter series (six books) comes out as a box set November 7, the same day the first book in its spinoff series, Adventure Against the Endermen, is released. That series will also be six books. Next year brings a nonfiction writing-for-hire book I did on hate crimes, and another manga book, this one called Manga Art for Intermediates. Eight of the books are out and fourteen have been written. I want to keep writing and publishing books, including branching out into more genres and more age groups. What can I say? I don’t know what else to do with myself.
Danica Davidson is the author of the novels in the Overworld Adventure series: Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrine, Battle with the Wither; the soon-to-be-released spinoff series Overworld Heroes, consisting of Adventure Against the Endermen, Mysteries of the Overworld, Danger in the Jungle Temple, Clash in the Underwater World, The Last of the Ender Crystal and Return of the Ender Dragon; the how-to-draw guide Manga Art For Beginners; the Barbie comic Barbie: Puppy Party and the Tales from the Crypt story “Picture Perfect.” She has written for MTV, The Onion, Women’s Health, CNN, Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Her work at MTV earned her a Webby honor with a small group of writers for Best Youth Writing. She is represented by the James Fitzgerald Agency.
Follow her on Twitter @DanicaDavidson.
Find out more about her on her website www.danicadavidson.com